Fr. Bill Carroll – The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, January 1, 2023
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
All is quiet on New Year’s Day.
A world in white gets underway.
I want to be with you,
Be with you, night and day.
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.
I will be with you again.
These words were sung by U2, back when they were still just a small, relatively unknown band from Ireland. “New Year’s Day” was, in fact, their first international hit, from their 1983 album, “War.” And I remember hearing it for the first time at a dance in middle school.
At first, it was a love song for Bono’s wife. But then later, the band reworked it as an anthem for the Solidarity movement. Solidarity, you may recall, was a struggle for freedom among Polish workers, back when Poland was still a Communist country, and its people were dominated and oppressed by the Soviet Union.
As we begin another trip around the sun, I am struck by the statement that “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.” At first glance, this may cause us to ponder the bleakness of our moral landscape. We face the same deadly sins and the same broken promises and resolutions. We experience the same conflicts, frustrations, and griefs that have plagued the human race, since Cain first murdered his brother. And, like God in Genesis, we can still hear the blood crying out from the ground.
And so, it may seem true that “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.” But the song points us to a powerful hope that changes the world. It is the kind of hope that once set Poland free and brought down the Iron Curtain: “Though torn in two, we can be one. I will begin again.” This hope is not naive. It is utterly realistic. It is grounded in God’s extravagant love for the world.
Today, beloved, is the Feast of the Holy Name. That’s the Name given to our Lord by the angel Gabriel: “He shall be called Jesus, for he shall save his People from their sins.” He will save us from our sins.
Because it falls exactly eight days after Christmas, New Year’s Day used to be called the Feast of the Circumcision. Like any Jewish boy, Jesus receives his name on that occasion. In the history of the Church, there are many, many fine sermons about it. Most of these focus on the Holy Family obeying the Law of Moses—or, more recently, on the Jewishness of Jesus. There are also some powerful sermons about the first blood that he sheds for lost humanity.
Indeed, there is a lot of blood during the Twelve Days of Christmas. On the twenty-sixth of December, we celebrate St. Stephen, the first martyr, a deacon of the Church who was stoned to death by a mob led by the Apostle Paul. On the twenty-eighth, we remember the Holy Innocents, children who were slain by Herod in an attempt to hold on to power. And then, on the twenty-ninth, we remember Archbishop Thomas Beckett, who was murdered in his own Cathedral, for obeying God rather than “king and country.”
And so, in Christmas season, we remember the holy martyrs—and the cost of following Jesus today. For he comes to bring justice and peace to the earth. And, for his trouble, like many people since, Jesus is murdered by the powers that be. Jesus comes, as he always does, into a world of tyranny and slaughter. The birth of the Prince of Peace speaks to what is happening today in Ukraine, in Iran, in Taiwan, as it once did in Poland, South Africa, and Ireland.
It also speaks to us here in Longview—wherever folks are tempted to give in to cynicism and despair. The birth of Jesus gives us hope. In the great Name of Jesus, we take our stand against the lie that nothing ever changes. We stand for the Kingdom of God, which is the Reign of mercy and truth. God’s love is real and victorious. And it has come to us in the flesh.
We need to hear that message on New Year’s Day. We need to hear about the victory of Jesus in our flesh on all twelve days of Christmas. We need to hear that we’ve been given power to live as God’s children.
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul is writing to a good and faithful church. It’s clear how much he loves them. But, even though they are living in the immediate aftermath of Easter, they still need Jesus. They still need to be converted to the Gospel. They still need to turn to Jesus, and begin their lives over again.
And so, in the second chapter of that letter, Paul cites one of the most ancient Christian hymns. It would have been well-known to the whole congregation. Paul makes it clear that he is urging them to follow Jesus more closely. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” he says. And then, he exhorts them to live more Christlike lives. Jesus “emptied himself,” he reminds them, “and took on the form of a slave.” Jesus “humbled himself,” he continues, “and “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Wherefore God highly exalted him and gave him the Name which is above all names.”
Whenever we hear the Name of Jesus, we should marvel at his love and forgiveness. We should marvel at his humble obedience to God. As a new year begins, let us recommit ourselves to follow Jesus more closely—to have his mind and be led by his Spirit of love. For the Son of God became human, so that we might “follow in his steps.” In his Name and by his grace, we can begin again.